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October 3, 2004

The Larger Meaning of Meaninglessness

Much of my strolling time, in college, was spent pondering similarities that I intuited to exist between seemingly unrelated disciplines. Some were obvious — English and music or psychiatry, for example. Others seemed tantalizingly close, but running on either side of the wall between the languages that had been constructed to talk about each — music and physics, for example. Speculative fields will bear certain similarities when the speculators are all human, but what does one conclude when the line where ostensibly objective fields begin to cross into speculation looks very similar to the line where subjective fields converge, internally, into structures?

To answer such questions (without the shortcut of declaring all human works indecipherably flawed), one must reconstruct all of reality, and I began to suspect that, even in achieving that impossible feat, one would still be left with irresolvable questions. The impossibilities beyond what is impossible. However, as I've since discovered, one who works in the other direction — beginning with the Why and applying it to the What — faces a task that is both more fulfilling and more conducive to a logical approach.

Often, I've simultaneously discovered, those who claim to do the former really do the latter, but couch their faith-dependent logic in terms implying objectivity. Theirs is a powerful strategy, and truth be told, it's taken me quite a while not to feel disoriented when I — as one who takes the theistic side of arguments — prove to be arguing from a position of less irrationality. Luckily, certain commentary has helped me to move beyond the disorientation.

In a more sane world, for example, the man who wrote the following would have his name rewritten in pencil on the rolls of scientists. In our world, Arne Jernelov is a professor and an environmental scientist for the United Nations.

Most religions embrace and promote certain notions about the meaning of life, offering the faithful reasons why we and all other organisms exist. Indeed, perhaps the fundamental definition of religious faith is the belief that life serves a (divine) purpose. Science, however, has always given a resounding "no" to the question "Does life have a higher meaning?"

The answer to that question, among scientists, ought to be, "Not my department." Try as he might (with unbidden parenthetical assumptions), Jernelov cannot disguise the degree to which he is correct that the "fundamental definition of religious faith" is tied up with the belief in purpose. Using an objective definition, that would include those who are resounding in their rejection of meaning.

Of course, Jernelov's piece is about a larger meaning that even fundamentalist atheists can embrace:

How do Schneider and Sagan reconcile the contradiction between what appears true of life -- that it organizes matter into increasingly complex creatures and structures -- and the notion that disorder should increase and order should be lost? Equally important, how can science see any meaning of life in the reconciliation of that apparent contradiction?

The bottom line is that the second law of thermodynamics rules and that the existence of life helps increase entropy. In other words, life promotes disorder. Some might think that this could be true only if the logical end of evolution and intelligent life were to be a nuclear explosion that pulverized Earth. But that is not what Schneider and Sagan mean. Instead, they make a distinction between matter and energy and say that matter organized in structures disseminates energy gradients faster than randomly distributed matter.

Entropy, the looming end of forever that quirky office workers quip serves as the ultimate perspective, is the meaning of life. Nothingness. The end of meaning is the ultimate meaning. Why do I get the sense that highfalutin scientists are only now catching up with collegiate stoners?

The serious point to be made, here, is that evangelists for atheism, masquerading as objective scholars, continue to confuse Mechanism for Meaning. Even if entropy is the deliberate end point of reality (or reality is the deliberate forerunner of entropy), the why is not answered. Moreover, for those who believe there to be more in Heaven and Earth than, well, Earth (or material reality), even proof that the distant future holds "an ultimate state of inert uniformity" would barely tell half the story. The less interesting, emotion-affecting half, at that.

Without basis to guess at the acumen of the Taipei Times's headline writer, one can only presume so much. Still, whether by incomprehension or a knack for pith, he or she has provided a perfect example of the faith involved in Jernelov's topic. The headline writer manages the accomplishment by taking the next leap of faith, giving the piece a title that is directly contradicted by the content, but in harmony with the spirit, of the essay itself:

Scientists explain the meaning of life (and we don't matter much)

It is only by the general mechanism of intuition that I say this, rather than through some scientific method, but it seems to me that the parenthetical clause once again reveals the article of faith. We don't matter much, ergo there is no God, ergo entropy is the meaning of life.

Posted by Justin Katz at October 3, 2004 9:10 PM
Religion
Comments

"Why do I get the sense that highfalutin scientists are only now catching up with collegiate stoners?"

As a practicing scientist, that gave me a chuckle. It's amazing to see the dichotomy taken by some scientists: on the one hand, when non-scientists make claims that are scientifically nonsensical, they can be merciless in their criticism; on the other hand, scientists frequently say completely idiotic things in the realm of philosophy and theology with zero understanding of what they are talking about. And the press frequently laps it up, because they are ignorant about both science and philosophy or theology.

The other funny aspect to this is that atheist apologists act surprised, or indignant, or frustrated when their message that life is meaningless doesn't gain any traction.

Posted by: Mike S. at October 4, 2004 10:10 AM

This reminds me of an exchange between my spouse and myself late yesterday evening. After banging my knee against the desk, my spouse queried, "Why did you do that?" In an off-hand way without too much thought (as it is in my nature to split hairs in cases such as this), I stated "Why? Well, my knee was in the wrong position when I decided to move in a direction I shouldn't have. As to purpose, there was no purpose."

What does this have to do with the thread, you might ask? It seems to me that there can be at least two ways of looking at whether there is meaning to life. If one is asking, "Why is there life?" it can be taken in any direction. If we are querying the purpose behind God creating us, then I'd be willing to bet the answer is somewhere along the line of - "because I'm the Daddy, that's why." Were we necessary? Most likely not. In the broader sense of the thing, we are meaningless to God since his will shall be done regardless of whether we abide by his will or not. In the narrower sense, we are not meaningless to God since our very existence is dependent on our being continually on his mind. In any explanation of the meaning of life, "we don't matter much" is only part of the answer.

In one respect, a person could say that yes, entropy is the meaning of life, but ultimately, this life is only the merest disturbance in the grand scheme of the universe. Entropy can be equated with death in a manner of speaking, and our goal is to get there with grace.

Posted by: smmtheory at October 4, 2004 12:27 PM

Scientist do often suffer (as does every profession) from seeing things through the coloration of what they do for a living. For example, lawyers see just about everything through the lens of litigation/battles over rights/liability. For example, if a scientist were to come upon the Mona Lisa, he would analyze it as nothing more than organic compounds with varying pigmentation strategically placed to reflect the recognizable pattern of a middle aged, female human being. A lawyer would look where its hanging and its merchandizing and figure the DaVinci estate got screwed out of major royalties. But neither view really addresses the question of why Leo painted it the way he did (although Hudson Hawk offered a rather amusing speculation).

Posted by: c matt at October 4, 2004 2:14 PM

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is a problematic and limited law; there is a vast literature on it, and it is somewhat superficial to throw it out there as the equivalent of, say, the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic or one of Maxwell's equations. It applies in physics to closed systems in the context of "work" and "available energy." It merely claims that it is impossible to extract more work from a system than the quantity of available energy present, and that the available energy present is invariably less than the total energy present unless a temperature of absolute zero can be attained.

Secondly, the use of the words "order" and "disorder," in this context, are technical terms that can be misleading. To use the word "order" in reference to both 1. the structural organization of an organism and 2. entropy -- as Jernelov does in his first sentence -- confuses categories; he uses the word "order" in two senses in a single sentence (very misleading stuff, but effective rhetorically).

He uses this rhetorical device to create an illusory conflict: between the "order" of life and the "disorder" of entropy. This is mixing apples and oranges.

Actually, the state of maximum entropy ("maximum disorder") is a highly ordered and peaceful state -- a perfect evenness of energy distribution -- the state of complete randomness (also a word difficult to define). Entropy is hardly "nothingness;" it's merely the absence of "available energy," which means that there are no energy gradients left in the system; it says nothing about the total amount of energy in the system, or the existence of or total mass of matter in the system. A system at maximum entropy can be very big and very substantial -- hardly "nothingness."

Some reserve the word "order" for a structure like an organism, but an organism is a process, that is never static, and it can hardly be a "state," to which entropy refers. Entropy applies to the energy gradients within the organism, not to the organism itself.

The last claim by Sagan and Schneider -- that matter organized as structures disseminates energy gradients faster than randomly distributed matter -- depends on how you define "randomly" (which is an extremely difficult task), and also is a dictum to which not everyone subscribes. For example, Hawking insists that the original state for the Big Bang must have been "random," notwithstanding that our universe is "smooth," and if this is the case, that particular random arrangement surely provided some monumental energy gradients, more than any "organized matter" has ever produced.

The Schneider and Sagan distinction between energy and matter is highly dubious in this context, as entropy applies solely to energy gradients; it's a questionable distinction rolled out simply to make a rhetorical point.

Finally, Jernelov's claim that "the existence of life helps increase entropy" (or perhaps he is paraphrasing Sagan and Schneider) is essentially meaningless, unless one defines the system about which one is speaking; entropy after all applies only to closed systems, and the Earth, with its input of solar energy, is not a closed system. In open systems like the Earth, it is easy to find examples of apparent decreases in entropy.

I find Jernelov's claims (and by extension, Sagan and Schneider's, if they are properly represented here) to be jibberish.

Posted by: MD at October 4, 2004 6:24 PM

Thank you, MD, for reminding me why I keep "physics overview" toward the top of my "books to buy" list.

Just to clarify something: I used "nothingness" to describe the end result of entropy for two reasons: 1) it's a common view of what the end state will be, and relatedly, 2) from the perspective of intelligent organisms, a universe without energy movement is effectively nothing.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 4, 2004 6:34 PM

Perhaps this would be a good place to note that I remain open to suggestions on the above-mentioned physics overview.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 4, 2004 6:36 PM

Well, it's not exactly an overview of physics, but it's a great book on the intersection of physics and faith: Stephen Barr's "Modern Physics and Ancient Faith"

It makes the case that the discoveries of the 20th century are more supportive of theism than atheism.

amazon link

Posted by: Mike S. at October 5, 2004 4:54 AM

Roberto Rivera has a great essay on BreakPoint, which sort of combines the themes of this post and the previous one (or at least the comments of the previous one).

I'll copy the whole thing here, since BreakPoint requires registration.


--------
Imaginary Day
The Slavery of Promiscuity


By Roberto Rivera


September 30, 2004


“We might date . . . I don’t know. It’s just that guys can get so annoying when you start dating them . . . ” That’s what Caity, a 14-year-old high school freshman, told Benoit Denizet-Lewis in a New York Times Magazine article, “Friends, Friends With Benefits and the Benefits of the Local Mall.” The subject was the apparent disinterest of American teenagers “in monogamous, long-term relationships.” In lieu what used to be called “dating,” there’s “hooking up,” a term Denizet-Lewis characterizes as “vague—covering everything from kissing to intercourse—though it is sometimes a euphemism for oral sex, performed by a girl on a boy.” Caity’s relationship with Adam, a 16-year-old who also believes that dating causes a person’s annoying qualities to emerge, is “surrounded . . . [by] a thick fog of sexual intrigue” that apparently was on its way to lifting.


Despite being nearly 7,500 words long, the article says little that most of us haven’t read before, most famously in Tom Wolfe’s Hooking Up, in which he wrote that “today’s first base is deep kissing, now known as tonsil hockey, plus groping and fondling this and that. Second base is oral sex. Third base is going all the way. Home plate is learning each other’s names.” Instead, what’s memorable is how dispirited the kids described are. For all the sex, they didn’t seem to be, well, enjoying themselves. In a world where “oral sex is common by eighth or ninth grade, and where hookups may skip kissing altogether,” the thrill that often accompanies transgression isn’t very likely. Neither is the possibility of what Caleb Stegall, writing in The New Panatagruel, calls “virtuous vice.” These vices “are virtuous because they carry within them the seed of redemption: a recognition of the truth that human beings are not merely materialistic beings, not just a collection of elements, but spiritual beings capable of a meaningful annihilation.” As G. K. Chesteron put it, “they accept the essential idea of man; they merely seek it wrongly.” The sex-as-fluid-dynamics on display here contain no such seeds of redemption. In fact, they’re easier to understand if you remember that their practioners have probably never given a moment’s consideration to the question of what it means to be human.


One person who definitely considered what it meant to be human was Aldous Huxley. Shortly after reading Denizet-Lewis’s piece, I watched a made-for-television adaptation of Huxley’s Brave New World. (Please insert boilerplate language about the presumed superiority of a book to any possible film adaptation here.) Like all adaptations, especially those less than one hundred minutes long, the 1998 version differed from Huxley’s novel. The ending was more hopeful than Huxley’s. (Then again, it could hardly be less.) And whereas the Lenina Crowne of the novel was a quirky party gal—kind of a Paris Hilton prototype—who John the Savage called an “impudent strumpet,” the onscreen Lenina was an intelligent woman capable of exercising reason. When John the Savage tells her that she, along with every other “civilized” person, had been taught to dismiss and discard everything that was worthwhile about being human, her conditioning made her resist his arguments. (Instead, she attempted to initiate sexual congress, a.k.a., “hook up,” with The Savage.) Eventually, that resistance failed and Lenina makes the momentous decision to have a baby.


Watching Lenina, I found myself wishing that the kids in Denizet-Lewis’s piece had been better trained to resist the truth about what means to be human. Yes, resist. It’s impossible to be impervious to this truth because there are some things about being human that no amount of conditioning can eradicate. (The controllers knew this and that’s why “re-conditioning” was occasionally necessary.) That leaves resistance and the unthinking Acedia/sloth (or spiritual apathy) on display in the Times. When resistance fails, the verbs most likely to be used to describe the failure are ones like “crumble” and “collapse.” Everything is then up for grabs. A real transformation is possible.


In contrast, Acedia/sloth doesn’t fail; it doesn’t even try. It can ignore the law of non-contradiction because it doesn’t try to make sense of anything. Whereas Lenina knew that sex could either be (A) a purely biological function with no other significance or (B) an act with significance that transcends the purely biological but not both, the kids in the article don’t appear to see the contradiction. “Sex is purely biological until I say it’s not” is a reasonable approximation of what’s going in the undifferentiated gray matter that passes for their minds. “What does it mean to be human” and “what makes life worthwhile” aren’t questions they ask themselves.


The fact that they don’t resist the truth shouldn’t be taken to mean that they haven’t been conditioned. They have. In “The American College and the Strange Death of Dating,” Vigen Guroian tells a story about giving a lecture on Brave New World at Loyola College in Baltimore. The lecture was followed by a discussion that compared dorm life with the world of the novel. Guroian said that there was a “clear difference” between the two: Promiscuity in the former was voluntary, whereas in the latter it was mandatory. In reply, a resident advisor told him, “Dr. Guroian, you are mistaken about that. The peer pressure and the way things are set up make promiscuity practically obligatory . . . This freedom can make girls dizzy and unsure of whatever else they believe about ‘saving oneself’ for marriage.”


Guroian then told the story of a student who woke up at three in the morning to find his roommate, not five feet away, having sex with one of his classmates. When he later told his roommate that he “could not believe that she didn’t mind having sex with someone for the first time while someone else was in the room sleeping [or] . . . that she hadn’t stopped and covered herself up when I had walked out of the room,” his roommate replied, “Whatever, she’s a college girl.” Both the reply and the girl’s self-degradation don’t come naturally to anyone with a soul. They are the product of conditioning.


The problem is that this conditioning is, for lack of better term, “soft,” whereas the conditioning in Brave New World was “hard.” It was upfront about its desire for control. It reserved the answer to “what is the end of man?” to itself. Hard conditioning depicted promiscuity as a social good that prevented harmful passions. By contrast, soft conditioning makes no claims regarding the end of man except to express skepticism that the question can be answered. Soft conditioning depicts promiscuity as an individual good, an act of liberation.


Hard conditioning, almost by definition, serves one master. Soft conditioning can serve many. Anyone who stands to benefit from people acting purely on appetite and forgetting that they have souls, that they will die and, thus, are meant for something more than satisfying their appetites, is served by soft conditioning. The differences make hard conditioning easier ? although not easy ? to overcome. It’s more likely to provoke resentment and even rebellion. In Brave New World, Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson chafed under their restrictions as the peoples of Eastern Europe did under theirs. The hard variety tells you to believe a lie about who you are. Once you begin to question that lie, the whole edifice can crumble.


The soft variety, because it’s depicted as a kind of freedom and doesn’t make totalistic claims, is a lot tougher to overcome, especially on a cultural scale. Where would you start? There’s no Resident World Controller to depose or vote out of office. There’s no Central Hatchery and Conditioning Centre to picket. What do you do after your objections are met with a decisive “whatever, she’s a college girl?”


I suppose I should be explicit about the fact that I don’t prefer tyranny and that I see a clear difference between it and the alternative. What’s also clear is that, for the Leninas in our midst, the difference between fiction and fact, as measured by the condition of their souls, isn’t all that great.


Roberto Rivera is a BreakPoint writer and a fellow of The Wilberforce Forum.

Posted by: Mike S. at October 5, 2004 5:18 PM

I'd like to second the earlier recommendation of
"Modern Physics and Ancient Faith." It's a tremendous presentation. universe.

I have a PhD in computer science, and I often run into AI specialists who insist that the brain is just a machine. The problem they have, and I think it's endemic to many specialists, is that they will work very hard to understand what they care about, and then just take wild leaps in other areas without admitting that they didn't do the work. Steven Barr has done the work and his book shows it. So does Paul Davies, by the way, who's also on Amazon, but he looks from another direction.

Posted by: A Berman at October 5, 2004 8:39 PM

Is it just my imagination, or does anybody else notice that just when physicists think they've found that particle or sub-particle that will finally answer all their questions about the make up of the universe, another particle or sub-particle flashes across the litmus paper? It all seems like a cosmic snipe hunt to me.

Posted by: smmtheory at October 5, 2004 11:51 PM

I can't help commenting on Thermodynamics. I think all discussions of thermodynamics, god and evolution tend to be a huge muddle of gibberish! They tend to contain snippets of correct information jumbled with incorrect information, extended with claimed truths that have nothing to do with thermodynamics.

My major advice on trying to relate thermodynamics and life: Avoid it! I'm an agnostic, and I've taken way too many courses involving Thermodynamics, but I can say this with confidence: Entropy is not the meaning of life. (Chocolate is a more suitable candidate.)

MD did as good a job as anyone trying to discuss entropy and life, but his comments are riddled with flaws. I'm noting them because I see them whenever I see something on thermodynamics evolution, methphysics and life.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is a problematic and limited law; there is a vast literature on it, and it is somewhat superficial to throw it out there as the equivalent of, say, the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic or one of Maxwell's equations. It applies in physics to closed systems in the context of "work" and "available energy."

The second law of thermodynamics, is not problematic; it applies to both open and closed systems. Straight forward applications of the 2nd law to open systems are covered in any decent thermodynamics course in Mechanical or Chemical Engineering. Open systems commonly analyzed include power plants (both nuclear and coal fired.), refrigeration systems, internal combustion engines and air conditioners. More advanced treatments can be found in zillions of engineering publications. Can you say "Rocket Science"? The second law must be applied to design rocket propulsion systems.

If a physicist tells you the 2nd law applies only to closed systems, that's ignorance. If they tell you it's problematic, they likely mean they don't want to bother to do a particular analysis, and prefer to guess the answer.

It merely claims that it is impossible to extract more work from a system than the quantity of available energy present,
This sounds like an expression of the First Law applied to a closed system with no heat transfer, not the 2nd.
Engineers joke the first law means : You can't get ahead.

and that the available energy present is invariably less than the total energy present This sounds like an attempt to express the Second Law.

Engineers joke the 2nd means: You can't break even. MD's description of the 2nd law is at the level of precision of the joke.

unless a temperature of absolute zero can be attained.
I don't know what this caveat is supposed to convey, so I can't translate it.

Secondly, the use of the words "order" and "disorder," in this context, are technical terms that can be misleading. To use the word "order" in reference to both 1. the structural organization of an organism and 2. entropy -- as Jernelov does in his first sentence -- confuses categories; he uses the word "order" in two senses in a single sentence (very misleading stuff, but effective rhetorically). He uses this rhetorical device to create an illusory conflict: between the "order" of life and the "disorder" of entropy. This is mixing apples and oranges.

I suspect MD is correct when he suggest the word "order" is used with two different meanings.

Actually, the state of maximum entropy ("maximum disorder") is a highly ordered and peaceful state -- a perfect evenness of energy distribution -- the state of complete randomness (also a word difficult to define). Entropy is hardly "nothingness;" it's merely the absence of "available energy," which means that there are no energy gradients left in the system; it says nothing about the total amount of energy in the system, or the existence of or total mass of matter in the system.

No. A state of maximum entropy is disordered from the thermodynamics point of view, and likely from other points of view. The discussion of gradients is confusing, but since MD brings it up, I'll include that while discussing the disorder using an example:

Suppose I have a box with all blue balls stacked neatly on the left side, and all red balls stacked neatly on the right side. Inside the box, we have a"color gradient" separating the blue side and the red side. Call this case 1.

Next, I shake the box, mixing all the balls up. Now there is not gradient. Call this case 2.

Case 1 is a well sorted system has a gradient, and has fairly low entropy.
Case 2, the mixed up system, has no color gradient, but higher entropy than the first one.

As to terminology: I think most consider people would consider the mixed up system, with zero gradients, is more disordered than the sorted one. Higher entropy is more disordered, in this sense.

That's the relationship between disorder, gradients and entropy. Gradients indicate a degree of order!

A system at maximum entropy can be very big and very substantial -- hardly "nothingness."
This statement is true, but it's an odd thing to say. A system with entropy not only can be very big and substantial, it can't be nothing. A system containing nothing, would have zero entropy.

However, zero entropy does not require nothingness. Lots of matter at absolute zero also results in zero entropy.

Some reserve the word "order" for a structure like an organism, but an organism is a process, that is never static, and it can hardly be a "state," to which entropy refers. Entropy applies to the energy gradients within the organism, not to the organism itself.,

The idea of a state does not require a system to be static. Also, one could, in principle, calculate the entropy of an organism. (It's not clear why one would ever wish to do so, it would be tedious, but it's possible. )

The last claim by Sagan and Schneider -- that matter organized as structures disseminates energy gradients faster than randomly distributed matter - depends on how you define "randomly" (which is an extremely difficult task),
Within the field of thermodynamics, "randomly" isn't difficult to define.

But, regardless, best response to the claim is "So what?" As far as I am aware, the second law of thermodynamics doesn't say matter will organize itself into structures that disseminate energy gradients quickly. Nor does it suggest matter will organize itself to generate entropy at a maximal rate. This seems to be someone's metaphysical extension which no longer relies on any law of thermodynamics.

and also is a dictum to which not everyone subscribes. For example, Hawking insists that the original state for the Big Bang must have been "random," notwithstanding that our universe is "smooth," and if this is the case, that particular random arrangement surely provided some monumental energy gradients, more than any "organized matter" has ever produced.

The Schneider and Sagan distinction between energy and matter is highly dubious in this context,
I know nothing about astronomy, so I'm skipping comments on this.

as entropy applies solely to energy gradients; it's a questionable distinction rolled out simply to make a rhetorical point.
Entropy does not apply solely to energy gradients. (Or if you believe it does, point me to an actual honest to goodness thermodynamics text that says this.)

Finally, Jernelov's claim that "the existence of life helps increase entropy" (or perhaps he is paraphrasing Sagan and Schneider) is essentially meaningless, unless one defines the system about which one is speaking;

MD is correct that Jernelov doesn't define his system. However, that's not a deadly criticism, since one could apply the system, and do the analysis. Although, it would probably be better do do some sort of control volume analysis instead of system analysis, but we won't go into that. Suffice it to say, a second law balance could be done. I'd speculate that if someone bothered to do the analysis, you'd find every single living entity increases entropy. I'd be astonished if they didn't. That said, I've never seen anyone do this analysis. ( Reasons: It's tedious and pointless. However, if you found living being violate the 2nd law of thermodynamic, you might win the Nobel prize.)


entropy after all applies only to closed systems,
Wrong.

and the Earth, with its input of solar energy, is not a closed system.
Correct.

In open systems like the Earth, it is easy to find examples of apparent decreases in entropy.
Yes. If you find a small subsystem, and permit heat transfer to be transferred from the system to the external "universe", the entropy of the system can decrease.

Moreover, even if the Earth were closed, you could make similar claim for in individual life form. I'm an open system (I breath, eat, sweat etc.) For that matter, my liver is an open system-- and so is each cell in my body. Any individual system can decrease (or increase) it's level of entropy. In a sense, they can just "dump" entropy from our system and donate it to the world.

I find Jernelov's claims (and by extension, Sagan and Schneider's, if they are properly represented here) to be jibberish.

As I said: I have never read or heard a discussion of metaphysics and thermodynamics that made anysense. None!

Posted by: lucia at October 6, 2004 1:07 PM

So it's true that Hell will freeze over if we don't keep dumping stuff into it!

Posted by: smmtheory at October 6, 2004 1:19 PM

Well.. I don't believe in hell. I do assume Hell does no useful work to benefit the rest of the cosmos? If I understand the concept of Hell, and the character of it's occupants, then if Hell is insulated and no matter is added to it contents, it's seems more likely the temperature would rise rather than fall.

To do a full analysis, I need more details about Hell.

Posted by: lucia at October 6, 2004 2:27 PM

I thought you said you were agnostic? How can you profess you don't believe in something that you previously stated was unknowable?

First of all, as an agnostic, you should never make an assumption about something that is unknowable, so you can't assume that Hell does no work that benefits the rest of the cosmos. Second of all, you can't assume that Hell is insulated either. Third of all, you can't assume the substance of Hell is related to matter. Lastly, any heat applied is inwardly directed.

Posted by: smmtheory at October 6, 2004 3:43 PM

SSMtheory: You are confusing positive with negative. "Not believing something exists" is not the same as "believing something does not exist".

In anycase, hell is not God, and therefore, I could, hypothetically believe in Hell while disbelieving in God. (It would be weird, but it's logically possible.) As it happens, I don't believe Hell exists-- and I also don't believe it does not exist. We're talking "belief vacuum" here!

You seem to object that I make assumptions about a hypothetical entity. Let me assure you, making assumptions is entirely consistent with being an agnostic. One must always make and state one's assumptions to do any thermodynamic analysis. Note: I stated "if" along with my assumption. I am not claiming these assumptions are true-- I simply need to make one to perform an analysis.

It is perfectly acceptable to make an assumption, state them and perform an analysis. This is true for both agnostics and theists. It may simply be a waste of time to perform a tedious analysis using faulty assumptions. (Unless it amuses the analyst to perform the analysis for fun.)

As I previously stated To do a full analysis, I need more details about Hell. Of course, I mean "this hypothetical hell". I apologyze for the imprecision.

If you have quantitative information about he heat transfer rate to or from Hell or information to suggest that Hell does, indeed, do work to benefit the Cosmos, I might be able to perform an analysis to determine whether or not it will freeze over. However, it may turn out the problem is intractable. (And I'll admit, I think we don't really need to know the answer.)

Posted by: lucia at October 6, 2004 4:41 PM

Okay Lucia, let me guess, (going back to your first response) you've got a fireplace that heats up when you quit putting logs in it, right?

I will admit, I suffered an inversion layer going from one non belief to the next. Just the same, since you don't believe in Hell, you shouldn't believe in any properties I might or might not state. Of course, that doesn't factor into the equation that I don't believe agnostics exist anyway.

Posted by: smmtheory at October 6, 2004 6:24 PM

Well, let's see if we can discern enough information for lucia's analysis. Scripture says that there is an impassable chasm between hell and heaven (see parable of Lazarus and the rich man). However, this would seem to apply only to human spirits, as the Creed states Christ descended into hell (although it does not appear to be the same "hell" we are speaking of). It is also stated that Satan has been cast out into hell, yet he was able to (1) tempt Adam and Eve, and (2) tempt Christ while on earth and (3) per Revelation, will be (or has been) loosed for a while. Thus, there appears to be some passing of certain spiritual beings (but not others) between hell and earth. I don't know if this is enough data, but it seems we know (or, if you prefer as an agnostic, can posit) there is some interaction between earth and inhabitants of hell. People can also go to hell, and presumably, its denomic inhabitant(s) (Satan, aka, Lucifer, Beelzebub, etc.) can go back and forth from there. Thus, it appears there is both transfer of energy to and from hell and earth. What say you, lucia?

Posted by: c matt at October 7, 2004 6:49 PM

As for the transfer rate, Jesus said to enter through the narrow gate, for the road to perdition (assuming that means hell) is wide. While the Church does not formally teach universal salvation in the sense that all are saved regardless, it is certainly in line to hope for the salvation of all, and the offer of salvation is open to all. I suppose since we know at least Satan and his demonic companions are there, but don't know their number, we can at least assume it is not currently empty. We can probably assume that there is a significant probablity (though not certainty) that a number of human souls will end up there. Hmm.... hard to come up with exact numbers though to give a transfer rate, but I would assume more going into the hell system than leaving (as only the demonic appear able to leave) and even those that leave will have to eventually return to it.

Posted by: c matt at October 7, 2004 6:58 PM

C.Matt,
Either Lucia is taking a long time to fit your parameters into the thermodynamic puzzle, or we are being ignored.

Posted by: smmtheory at October 8, 2004 1:55 PM

It would be an interesting calculation though, if it could be done. What a great dissertation topic for your PhD.

Posted by: c matt at October 8, 2004 6:00 PM

Thus, it appears there is both transfer of energy to and from hell and earth. What say you, lucia?

First, one of my posts was deleted! (The answer was: Yes, I have a fireplace that heats up after you stop putting logs in it-- provided the ones in there are already burning, and you don't cut off the air. )

So, I went away for a while. I was knitting anyway...

But, In any case, this is more fun now!

So, based on "hell mythology" (and for the record, a priest who taught religion at my Catholic high school defined myth as a story about that which no one can observe. According to him, the term has little to do with whether or not the story was true. I'm using the word in the sense he defined it. If there is a better word, I'd be happy to use that.)

Anyway, based on the mythology:

1) We could consider "hell" some sort of big vessel, with pipes going in or out. the walls of the vessel may or may not be insulated, the pipes may or may not convey stuff in or out, and reactions may or may not occur inside. (This is not unlike my fireplace. BTW-- this would be called a "control volume" if we were doing an engineering analysis.)

2) It appears that material of some sort enters and exists hell through the pipes.

3) Presumably, this material might have properties. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what properties the materials have. Do bodies enter? Or souls? (Bodies would carry mass, enthalpy, entropy, internal energy etc.) I have no idea properities souls might have. We would definitely have to know about these properties, and quantify them all, to perform an entropy balance.

4) I think, based on hell mythology, a lot 'people' (either as bodies or souls enter. Only devils exist-- but they go back. However, don't we hear that it's constantly burning in there? There must also be some oxygen coming in and out. Are the bodies (or souls) consumed?

It is a great mystery. I do think we need to put some meters on the entrance and exist to watch what comes in an out. We ae also going to need to figure out whether one devil carries a lot more mass/energy/entropy etc. than one human soul. That would make a huge difference.

I think, figuring out whether hell freezes or boils is going to be just as difficult as proving evolution is required or forbidden by the 2nd law of thermo. I've heard both claims. People setting them forth always proceed to say at least a few things that are just wrong.

1)

Posted by: lucia at October 8, 2004 6:59 PM

Lucia,

I deleted no posts. A server transfer may have lost comments made during a short interval the other night.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 8, 2004 7:05 PM

Okay Lucia, what happens in your fireplace after that initial increase of heat though? Parameter being no more logs after that. If you are going to get picky, the initial statement said "don't keep putting stuff in it." I.E., Hell receives no further influx of patrons and/or denizens, nada, zip, zilch.

You are also making it more complicated than needed. But if it helps, Hell is metaphysical, and physical and beings proscribed to Hell are both consumed and eternally damned, they are also committed to pits of darkness and unquenchable fire and I've also heard an unquenchable thirst that seems like burning. If you are going to include the parameters from one mythology, you might as well include them from all the mythologies. Oh, and there is also the punishment befitting the crime type of Hell, and the punishment fitting the proscribed (or what ever the damned picks, so ostensibly you could have hot and cold spots) or in some cases, self-prescribed. But as I was saying you are making it needlessly complicated. Heat and cold may have no meaning in the afterlife anyway.

I know a lot of this sounds like paradox, but it will become more clear after death... except for agnostics.

Posted by: smmtheory at October 9, 2004 11:22 PM